Based on a question a reader asked recently, I thought I'd write a bit about one of the worst things you can do to anyone you report to. That is, surprise them.
As a kid, we were excited by surprises because the implied message is that a surprise is a gift. Something that someone got for you, that they thought you'd enjoy, at no cost or obligation to you. However, as an adult, a surprise, especially in the business world, is almost always a problem. Let's use an analogy. Since it is football season, we'll review Bear Bryant's attitude towards the forward pass. He felt that 3 things could happen when his team threw the ball, and 2 of them were bad. The same ratio applies when you tell your manager you have a surprise. Surprises in business are almost always uniformly bad. You can go over budget. You can consume more resources than expected. You can work on a task or project much longer than was expected. Even a "good" surprise - like adding more features than expected or bringing in a project a little early - can be a negative since the manager may have had plans to use those resources in a different way - or had different prioritizations. There's very rarely a good "surprise" in business.
Managers are people who like predictability, stability and consistency. They want to know that what has been forecast will, as much as within their control, come to fruition. Managers don't like last minute changes, scope creep or budget deficits. This is not to beat up on managers - this is what they are paid to do.
I wrote on this topic because a reader wrote to me and asked how to balance the desire to do more than expected but not impact the timeframe or budget of a project. I responded in an email that people who are truly productive are not trying to do "more" work, but the best work they can do within the circumstances afforded to them, with the least amount of effort. This means they understand the scope of the work, the intent of the result, what their customers and managers expect and how to get the work done efficiently and effectively. While an individual or team may be able to accomplish more work in a given time, or provide more functionality in just a little more time, that's not what the customer or the manager requested. It's important to consider what sales managers call a great win - when you expend just enough effort to win, and no more. That's the way we should approach each project - how much work will it take to do the job well, bring it in on time and on budget and no more?
A manager will always want to deliver a result on-time, on-budget and on specification. He or she will prefer, in almost every situation, to deliver less functionality in a project but bring it in on time and on budget, rather than miss deadlines or budgets. Individuals and teams interested in productivity need to understand these expectations and work as effectively as possible to provide the right product or service within the timeframes, using the tools and processes available to create the best end result with the least amount of effort.
The only surprise you want to provide to your manager is a birthday cake on her birthday.